TEL AVIV – Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was “horrified” by the cancellation of a talk by the Israeli ambassador to Ireland at a Dublin university following a “vicious” protest by pro-Palestinian students.
Ambassador Ze’ev Boker was scheduled to address students at Dublin’s Trinity College on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent meeting with President Donald Trump.
However, shortly before the event, some 40 activists from the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stormed the venue. Both the local police and university security were unable to move the demonstrators who were holding placards and chanting slogans such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”
In its statement Tuesday, Trinity College said it views the protesters’ actions “as an unacceptable attack on free speech.”
“This was most unfortunate and represents the antithesis of what Trinity stands for,” Provost Patrick Prendergast said, adding that “universities should be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The protesters have violated that fundamental belief. Trinity will remain a home for debate and we will do everything possible to make sure that efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas do not succeed.”
“I look forward to welcoming Ambassador Boker back to Trinity to speak again in the near future,” he added.
The day after the incident, the Israeli embassy in Ireland called on the university “to take the appropriate measures to deal with the instigators of last night’s protest,” while also saying “we expect the Irish authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of speech for Israel’s ambassador.”
The embassy said it was “horrified by the vicious action of a group of protesters” who “denied [Boker’s] right to freedom of expression.” It also accused the activists of chanting “genocidal slogans calling for Israel’s destruction while barring access to the lecture theater.”
The demonstrators, the embassy said, “obviously have no interest in helping efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but rather seek to “ignite and inflame the situation. It is a pity to see such a small and extreme group denying academic thought, exploration and discussion from an Irish audience, but unfortunately these are the bullying, intimidating tactics of the BDS movement.”
Grace Conway, one of the event’s organizers, told the college website the University Times that the protesters misunderstood the aim of the event.
“We are deeply saddened by the student reaction against the event,” she said. “We feel that it was a misunderstanding of what we were trying to do as a society, which was to provide a platform for discourse and we don’t discriminate against any ambassador, we invite all ambassadors and treat the with respect and decorum as diplomats. We don’t discriminate against countries whether or not we support their political beliefs.”
Ciaran O’Hagan, the head of Trinity’s SJP, said the protest was legitimate.
“The message here is that we respect the human rights of Palestinians even if the Israeli ambassador doesn’t, who has gone on record as saying the siege of Gaza doesn’t exist and justifying and whitewashing the settlement regime,” he told the University Times.
SJP hailed the cancellation as a major win for BDS, saying the protest “served as a response to the ongoing, systematic violations of human rights and international law perpetrated by the Israeli state.”
Ireland is generally viewed by Israel as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Earlier this month, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying that Boker was working on blocking a move by Ireland to recognize Palestine as a state.
According to the report, the official said Boker’s cable to Jerusalem also called for assistance from the Trump administration in Washington to pressure Ireland.